The Problem of Eva: On Life, Sex, Women and War

Svik

In Håkon Gundersen’s 2009 film Betrayal (Svik) the main character is a brave, independent and sexually active woman – who also knows how to handle a firearm. This is not the typical female character to be found in the 27 Norwegian WWII films made from 1946 until today.

WWII films are often masculine landscapes. Some films don’t even include women at all! As a rule, the hero (or anti-hero) is a man. So, what’s left for the other sex? As a whole the material offers four different female strategies for women in times of war. She can be either a supporter of men’s actions, a victim, a femme fatale or, under certain circumstances, a heroine. Betrayal raises the following question: Can a heroine be a femme fatale, or vice versa?

Eva, played by Lene Nystrøm (from Aqua), is a night club singer at the fictitious Club Havana in Oslo where war profiteers and collaborators meet German SS-officers – and beautiful women. Eva starts an affair with the Gestapo chief in Oslo. It turns out that the seemingly dubious Eva in fact runs a double game and that she feeds the resistance movement with vital information. Finally, her cover is blown and she has to try to make it to Sweden. Near the border she is overtaken by her pursuers. What happens next is a Tarantino’esque showdown without its match in Norwegian filmography. Everybody dies – except or heroine Eva. With her high-heel shoes in one hand and her gun in the other, she walks into neutral Sweden and survives.

The film was very badly recieved at its release in October 2009, less than one year after the premiere of the phenomenon Max Manus, which sold 1.2 million tickets from December 2008 to June 2009. Betrayal was advertised with the following promise: “If you liked Max Manus, this is something for you”. Critics and audiences didn’t agree. I think the main reason for this is that this film breaks with established genre exceptations to a Norwegian occupation drama. It blends fictitious and “true” elements in an unreliable way and doesn’t fit into the dominant popular cultural image of occupied Norway. However, Eva should be seen as a potential feminist cult figure. She’s smart, ruthless and cool under fire (literally!). So what’s the problem? The problem is not the methods she uses, but the fact that she’s a woman. She is not only willing to sacrifice her own life for a higher purpose – i.e. winning the war – but also to jeopardize her own name and good reputation. When using her body to obtain advantages she takes on the role as a woman not to be trusted.

The DVD version has an extra dimension that the cinema version lacked. An added frame story (prologue and epilogue) shows that Eva’s game with the Gestapo chief has resulted in a child and that Eva’s American family (she moved to the USA after having escaped to Sweden and London) never knew who the real father was. Until Eva breaks the news to her granddaughter.

War movies are always tales about sacrifice, courage and/or morale. Betrayal shows how difficult it is to be a woman in times of war. It’s not enough to do good; it’s equally required to represent the feminine as the beholder of the national home. “Where would we be if all women were like Eva?” seems to be the accusational rhetoric question hanging in the air. The same logic is very rarely used to assess the actions and choices made by the privileged sex. Both the portrait of Eva itself and the reception (i.e. slaughtering) of the film in 2009, accentuates the importance of gender as a way of making sense of it all when war threatens to tear all apart. It sounds an echo through history: Men must not be cowardly; women must not engage with the enemy. The femme fatale in Betrayal is very aptly named Eva, since the name is derived from the Hebrew word for … life. As we all know, life is neither simple nor fair.

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Reference to my article on female characters in Norwegan WWII movies from 1946 to 2012: T.V.H. Hagen, “Agnes, Liv, Ida og Eva: kvinner og krig på film i Norge”, i Nytt blikk. Årsskrift fra Stiftelsen Arkivet, 2013: 84-103

Read PDF (Norwegian): Agnes, Liv, Ida og Eva – bloggversjon 2.6.14

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